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Uganda begins trial of “MVA-BN” Ebola vaccine3 minutes read

The trial of the MVA-BN vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson is expected to last two years

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Uganda begins trial of "MVA-BN" Ebola vaccine
(Photo by Isaac Kasamani / AFP)

Uganda said Monday it had started a trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine that may be used in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, where an outbreak has killed more than 1,800 people.

The trial of the MVA-BN vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson is expected to last two years, Uganda’s Medical Research Council (MRC) said.

The vaccine will be administered to up to 800 health professionals and frontline workers such as cleaners, ambulance personnel and mortuary and burial teams, in the western district of Mbarara, the MRC said in a statement.

MRC spokeswoman Pamela Nabukenya Wairagala said vaccinations had already begun.

READ: DR Congo’s health minister resigns after removal from key Ebola response role

The MRC said the trial would be led by Ugandan researchers and supported by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

At present, there is no licenced drug to prevent or treat Ebola although a range of experimental drugs are in development.

The Congo outbreak is the first time that a vaccine has been used as a full-scale weapon against the virus.

Health authorities have been issuing the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine, developed by US pharma group Merck — a product that has yet to be licenced but has been shown to be safe and effective.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for its deployment to be expanded and has recommended the Johnson & Johnson vaccine also be rolled out in order to meet needs.

However, the latter move has been resisted.

Critics have cautioned against introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high. 

Congo’s former health minister, Oly Ilunga, who stepped down in July, was among the detractors.

The MRC said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “is safe” and had been tested on more than 6,000 people in Europe, the US and African nations including Uganda.

However, its efficacy is unclear because it has never been assessed in an outbreak scenario. 

READ: Vaccination campaign holds in Goma after Ebola patient death

By comparison, rVSV-ZEBOV was introduced in Guinea towards the end of a 2013-16 epidemic in West Africa, enabling scientists to conclude it was effective.

The trial taking place in Uganda, where there is no Ebola, will look at the response of the immune system to the vaccine — a key pointer of effectiveness.

It will also look at safety and the attitudes of participants towards the vaccine, the MRC said.

Professor Pontiano Kaleebu, the lead Ugandan researcher in the trial, said developing a reliable vaccine was a key component to controlling Ebola epidemics.

“In this trial, we hope to avail more information that will help us work towards having a licenced Ebola vaccine,” Kaleebu said in a statement.

Uganda has suffered Ebola outbreaks in the past but nothing on the scale of the Congo epidemic, which began in August 2018. 

It is the second-worst outbreak on record, eclipsed only by 2013-2016 epidemic in West Africa, which killed more than 11,300 out of 29,000 documented cases.

Uganda has been declared Ebola-free though in June three people from one family died there from the haemorrhagic fever after crossing back from Congo.

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Africa records highest growth in use of modern contraceptives

Gains of 7 per cent were recorded in East and Southern Africa, against a global growth of 2 per cent.

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Africa records highest growth in use of modern contraceptives
Beth Schlachter (C), Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) Executive Director, speaks on the latest data and analysis on global progress in family planning ahead of the 25th International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, on Novemeber 11, 2019. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

The number of women and girls embracing modern contraception has leapt by tens of millions, with Africa recording the biggest gains, according to the organisation Family Planning 2020 (FP2020).

A new report shows that 314 million women and girls in 69 countries – out of 926 million of child-bearing age – now use contraceptive methods like condoms, pills and birth control implants.

The figures represent a gain of 2 per cent globally since 2012, while gains of 7 per cent were recorded in East and Southern Africa.

“The use of modern contraception is growing fastest here in Africa,” FP2020 director Beth Schlachter told a press conference in Nairobi, ahead of a global conference on population and development set to begin Tuesday.

FP2020, a self-described “global movement” founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the British government, works with governmental and non-governmental partners to promote goals set at a conference in London in 2012. 

Specifically, it has been striving for 120 million new contraception users by 2020.  

“Family planning is a basic right,” said Benoit Kalasa, a representative of the United Nations Population Fund, citing the dangers posed by pregnancies that are too close together or that occur at a young age.

“It gives women the means to plan their life. They can stay in school when they avoid unplanned pregnancies. Women can space pregnancies to participate in economic activities.”

Of the 69 countries covered in the report, 41 are in Africa, 21 are in Asia and Oceania, four are in Latin America and the Caribbean and three are in the Middle East.

Schlachter said that governments seem increasingly focused on integrating family planning into health policy with an eye toward overcoming logistical challenges and cultural and religious barriers.

“In many places, even if you resolve things like funding of family planning or supply chain, unless you also work with communities and women to actually understand what contraception is, there will be a barrier to uptake.”

This week’s International Conference on Population and Development in Nairobi is not without controversy. 

On Monday around 100 supporters of a Catholic organisation demonstrated against the conference, which will focus on demographics and reproductive rights.  

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Victoire Ingabire launches new political party in Rwanda

Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire announced Saturday she was launching a new political party

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Victoire Ingabire launches new political party

Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire announced Saturday she was launching a new political party, hoping it will be allowed to operate in a country where the ruling regime has no real rival.

Ingabire’s previous party FDU-Inkingi, which she founded while in exile in 2016, was not recognised by the government of long-ruling President Paul Kagame.

She was imprisoned until receiving a presidential pardon last year from Kagame, whom she regularly accuses of suppressing freedom of speech, repressing the opposition and neglecting the country’s poor. 

“I am announcing the launch of a new opposition party,” Ingabire told AFP, saying it would be called Dalfa Umurunzi (Development And Liberty For All).

“This will help me to continue the mission that had been assigned to me by the FDU-Inkingi party,” she added.

“The political space in this country is very limited but we are ready to fulfil all legal requirements for registration and conduct our activities in accordance to the laws of the nation.”

She returned from exile in The Netherlands intending to run for president in 2010 as FDU-Inkingi’s leader.

But she was arrested, charged with terrorism and sentenced to more than a decade in jail during a widely criticised trial. She was unexpectedly granted early release alongside more than 2,000 other prisoners in September last year.

Ingabire, an ethnic Hutu, was accused of “genocide ideology” and “divisiveness” after publicly questioning the government narrative of the 1994 genocide of mostly Tutsi people that killed around 800,000 people.

Numerous FDU-Inkingi members have disappeared or been killed in mysterious circumstances over the last few years. The party accuses the government of brutally cracking down on dissenting voices.

One member was stabbed near the capital Kigali in September, while party spokesman Anselm Mutuyimana was kidnapped in March, his body later found in a forest. 

Although Rwanda is constitutionally a multi-party system there is practically no opposition, with most of the recognised parties supporting the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

Kagame, the de facto ruler since his rebel army stopped the genocide in 1994, has been praised for bringing stability and economic growth to his tiny nation but often comes under fire for restricting political freedom.

He commonly wins re-election with more than 90 per cent of the vote.

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Springboks’ Rugby World Cup win springs hope of unity in South Africa

The significance of Kolisi lifting the trophy after a 32-12 victory over England resonated across South Africa.

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Springboks Rugby World Cup win springs hope of unity in South Africa

South Africans white and black celebrated wildly on Saturday and expressed hopes that the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup win, inspired by black captain Siya Kolisi, would bring the nation together.

The significance of Kolisi lifting the trophy after a 32-12 victory over England in Yokohama resonated across South Africa.

During the years of apartheid, rugby was clearly identified as the sport of the country’s white minority. 

Springboks rugby World Cup win springs hope of unity in South Africa
Siya Kolisi of South Africa receives Webb Ellis Cup after winning the Rugby World Cup Japan final match at the International Stadium Yokohama in Yokohama City, Kanagawa prefecture on Nov. 2, 2019. South Africa won the match by 32-12 to claim the championship. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun )

When Kolisi was made South Africa’s first black Test captain last year, it felt as if a barrier had been broken down — and in Yokohama on Saturday his achievement, and the team’s gradual racial transformation, was there for the world and millions of South Africans back home to see.

“Knowing where we come from as a country and to see Kolisi lift the trophy is absolutely monumental. It is really an incredible moment. Tears come to my eyes,” said Tshenolo Molatedi, a 26-year-old who watched the match at a Johannesburg sports club.

Joseph Mitchell, 50, a black actor, said the victory would have enormous significance.

“We are now 25 years into democracy and for the last 25 years, whites have dominated rugby and everything! It’s about time that people of colour can come forward to prove to the world that we are capable and probably better.”

The apartheid-era legacy meant that whites dominated the Springboks’ previous two World Cup-winning teams, despite only representing 10 per cent of the South African population.

Only one black player, Chester Williams, was in the victorious 1995 team and two, JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana, were part of the Springboks team that triumphed again 12 years later. 

On Saturday, black wingers Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe scored the two late tries that put the final beyond the reach of England, who were pre-match favourites.

“If you give black people a chance they can deliver and today’s win is a proof of that,” said Tsakane Mabunda, 45.

Seeing Kolisi hold the Webb Ellis trophy aloft brought back memories of the 1995 win when South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, presented the trophy to the team’s white captain, Francois Pienaar.

“Our father, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, is smiling from the heavens today. Halala Siya Kolisi, treasure of the nation!” another of the heroes of the fight against racial segregation, Desmond Tutu, said in a congratulatory message to the team.

Read also: Siya Kolisi: Trying for greatness

‘Rainbow Nation’

A quarter of a century after the fall of apartheid, South Africa is still riven by racial tensions and deep economic inequality between whites and blacks remains.

But Tom Hammonds, 34, a white teacher, said the Rugby World Cup had united the country.

“We feel we are the Rainbow Nation. We have had a lot of problems in this country but sports always bring us together,” he said.

The ruling ANC also drew on Mandela’s legacy to express its hope that the World Cup win would bring lasting dividends.

“Sport is one of the biggest catalysts of social cohesion and nation-building, bringing together all South Africa’s people,” it said in a statement addressed to the team.

“Thank you for reigniting the Madiba magic – and making our Rainbow nation come alive.”

In Cape Town, the crowd watching the match on big screens erupted in joy at the final whistle.

“Look around, we have black, white, coloured … we are all united here today,” said Justin Johnson, a 35-year-old IT worker.

“The Springboks have done more for South Africa than any political party.

“I feel like in 1995 and even 2007 the Springbok emblem was still synonymous with the old regime and caused a lot of division. But today I think we have come full circle.”

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